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Speed Up: Suzuki Endurace Race Experience

31st Dec 2019 6:31 am

Suzuki debuted its brand-new Gixxer SF 250 race bike at a special endurance race designed for the media. Here's what the experience was like.

A line-up of grown men clad in leather suits sprint across the breadth of the Kari Motor Speedway (KMS) as the marshal waves his flag at the front of the pack. Their teammates hold their bikes up for them – side stand up, ignition and kill switch on. All the running member has to do is get on the bike as fast as possible, turn it on and ride away. This is how endurance races start, but to add to the excitement, this year we were getting to experience Suzuki’s gorgeous new, race-spec Gixxer SF 250.

It’s not the most graceful thing to do in a leather suit, but since every second counts, you sprint as fast as your legs can carry you.

Unfortunately for us common folk, this modified, track-only Suzuki isn’t for sale and will run only in a One Make Championship. Suzuki already has an ongoing one-make series (now in its fifth season) that uses the smaller capacity Gixxer. Just as before, it continues to be one of the most affordable entries into circuit racing in the country, and maybe even the world. Suzuki tells us that the series, comprising of the SF 250s, will debut next year and feature only experienced riders, unlike the ongoing Gixxer series that’s open to novice riders as well. Lucky for us journalists, we were given the opportunity to see how the changes to the road-going SF 250 translate to the racetrack.

One vision

Like with motorcycles in most other one-make series, weight reduction is the area that sees the most substantial change. We’ve been told that the race-ready SF 250 has lost nearly 20kg by removing hardware that isn’t needed on a racetrack. This includes the headlight, the tail extension, turn signals, saree guard, grab rails and stock exhaust. The stock bodywork remains; so we assume that the removed parts must have been made of some rather heavy materials to account for a 20kg saving.

A lightweight, neatly finished, free-flow exhaust replaces the stock system and also bumps up the power output by a bit. Suzuki claims a 3.5-5hp increase over the 26.5hp on the stock bike, but considering the bike receives no other mechanical updates, the gain is probably more in line with the lower end of that spectrum. Suzuki tells us that the exhaust didn’t demand a remapped ECU or higher-flow air filter, so they remain stock, along with the engine.

A much-needed taller windscreen is in the works.

The 249cc engine delivered an engaging performance even when we first rode the stock bike, and what really kept it from being a great machine on the track were the sports-tourer ergonomics. Suzuki has addressed this, and how! The front suspension has its pre-load dialled down, resulting in a lowered fork; a similar adjustment has been made to the rear suspension as well, and both can be adjusted according to the racer’s body weight. A more consequential change comes in the form of the clip-on handlebar that’s now been set 40mm lower. With that, the foot pegs are now set backwards and upwards, both by close to 50mm. Interestingly, the lowered handlebar meant the fairing would get in the way at higher steering angles, and to avoid this, the steering lock has been limited to conform with what Suzuki says are MotoGP-like regulations. This took some getting used to in the pit lane, with a lot of us almost dropping our bikes even before we got out on the track. However, you never notice this on the track, and it just goes to show how little steering input is required to get the bike to lean over. Now, back to how these changes were in application.

Clip-ons and fork lowered for the track. Great!

Dancing queen

The SF 250 was more intuitive to steering inputs and carried much more lean than previously possible. Another key factor responsible for the increased performance and agility came with the grippier tyres – Metzeler Sportec M7s. It wasn’t until I got passed on the outside by a faster rider that I realised the tyres had a lot more to offer.

These changes not only eliminate any trace of ‘touring’ characteristics from the SF 250, but also result in a stunning bike. The MotoGP livery is one of the best graphic schemes on an Indian motorcycle and the cut-down, minimal body work only adds to the aesthetic appeal. The rest of the bike remains nearly identical to the stock bike. The brakes lose the ABS system, and while the rest of the braking hardware remains the same, Suzuki has used a steel-braided hose for the front to decrease chances of brake fade.

Steel-braided lines reduce brake fade.

The only chink in its armour is due to the stock sprocketing – the SF 250 was banging off the rev limiter at 154kph with more than a couple of hundred metres to go down the long main straight. It was even quicker when I found myself in someone else’s slipstream. Nevertheless, in its track-prepped form, the SF 250 turned out to be a very fun and rewarding motorcycle to ride on a short, technical circuit like the KMS. And a fun and rewarding race weekend it was!

Under pressure

So here’s what you need to know about endurance races – a team of two or more riders race over multiple hours, with the participants given the chance to come into the pit lane and switch riders. The most famous example is the Suzuka 8 Hours. In this case, we were paired in two-man teams and the race duration was a mere 40 minutes, but given the general lack of fitness in our fraternity, it wasn’t exactly going to be smooth-sailing. The only regulation was that each rider needed to do a minimum of 14 minutes and a maximum of 26.

Rear-set foot pegs don’t scrape any more.

We were asked to pick numbered chits to decide our teammates, and I was paired with Manoj from MotorOctane, who thankfully had a fair amount of track experience. After a brief introduction and a quick chat about his trip to Malaysia to break the ice, we were suiting up for our qualifying session. Turns out, we would get along just fine; with a combined average time of 1m27.030s, we qualified in pole position.

On race day, the relaxed atmosphere from the previous evening started to fade, with some of us more serious than the others. I knew we had the pace to finish on the podium, or maybe even come away with the win. And I prepped, stretched and suited up, all with my headphones on, just like the pros do. Manoj too was swept over by this lingering sense of competitiveness in the air, and offered to go on track first and come in for the swap as soon as he’d completed his 14 minutes, because I was the faster rider.

The bikes were lined up on the grid, I held ours in place for Manoj and moments after the marshal flagged the start, he was on the bike. Seconds later, my teammate was off, and the waiting game began. 15 minutes in, I asked for the marshal to signal for him to come in, and a lap later, it was my turn to head out. Manoj was running in 4th place when I took over, but I knew that if I was consistent with my lap timings, we could gain a position or two. With no sense of how much time was left, I rode every lap as if it were the last and crossed the chequered flag. It was only when I returned to the pits that I discovered we’d finished first! My first race experience as a journalist turned out to be extremely fun and equally rewarding, and on a motorcycle that’s quite adept at what it’s been designed to do. Now, I’ve got to try and wrangle a seat to see where I stand against the big boys in the national championship!

 

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